Two-point-seven million Americans live with atrial fibrillation, a condition that causes the heart to pump out of sync and blood to pool and clot.
“The most dangerous side effect of atrial fibrillation is stroke because that clot can then travel to the brain,” said Dr. Brian Hansen, with Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University.
Doctors can treat it with ablation -- destroying the tiny bit of heart tissue that’s causing the problem. Now scientists are using ex-vivo, or beating donated human hearts, to test a new way of pinpointing the source of AFib.
Scientists are studying the donated human hearts to better detect the precise point where arrhythmia starts. Researchers are injecting the atria with a dye and using infrared light to see inside the heart wall.
“You’re familiar with jellyfish. And sometimes if you see jellyfish that have fluorescent light glowing, we actually can see this glowing inside of the heart. After we inject the dye,” explained Vadim Fedorov, professor of physiology and cell biology at OSU Medical Center.
The hearts are preserved in a special fluid, and when warmed, start to beat. The researchers have multiple cameras positioned to capture four-dimensional images and create computer models. The goal is to find the exact cells, or drivers, that are causing the AFib.
“If you can find that circuit, you can then break that circuit with this ablation procedure. And that should quiet down the electrical storm elsewhere in the heart,” said Hansen.
Researchers say the more precise surgeons can be during ablation, the better the results for the patients.
“We can prevent any risk of the stroke and the patients should not use any more blood thinners, which also have unfortunate side effects,” said Fedorov.
Helping get the human heart back on track.
The Ohio State research team also found that a chemical that is present in human cells and already used by physicians, called adenosine, may help pinpoint the exact source of the arrhythmia.
In a small pilot trial of ten patients, surgeons used adenosine to guide their ablation. Doctors say eight of the 10 patients were helped by the new method.